JOE’S CORNER – – — – 1 SEPTEMBER 2016
Hi, Joe here – – there is so much wisdom in this little piece; I thought
all would enjoy it.
17 INCHES! FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January 1996, more
than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for
the 52nd annual ABCA convention.
While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more
veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to
present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept
resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — "John Scolinos is
here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare."
Who the hell is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter, I was just
happy to be there.
In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a
college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage
to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a
light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate
hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate. Seriously, I wondered,
who in the hell is this guy?
After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop
hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the
snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach
Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he
had simply forgotten about home plate since he'd gotten on stage.
Then, finally … "You're probably all wondering why I'm wearing home
plate around my neck. Or,maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo
State Hospital," he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along
with the others, acknowledging the possibility. "No," he continued, "I
may be old, but I'm not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is
to share with you baseball people what I've learned in my life, what
I've learned about home plate in my 78 years."
Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League
coaches were in the room. "Do you know how wide home plate is in
After a pause, someone offered, "Seventeen inches?", more of a
question than an answer. "That's right," he said.
"How about in Babe Ruth's day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the
house?" Another long pause. "Seventeen inches?" came a guess
from another reluctant coach.
"That's right," said Scolinos.
"Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?"
Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. "How
wide is home plate in high school baseball?" "Seventeen inches,"
they said, sounding more confident. "You're right!" Scolinos barked.
"And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in
college?" "Seventeen inches!" we said, in unison.
"Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro
ball?" "Seventeen inches! "RIGHT!"
"And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major
Leagues?" "Seventeen inches!" "SEV-EN- TEEN INCHES!" he
confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. "And what do they do
with a Big League pitcher who can't throw the ball over seventeen
inches?" Pause. "They send him to Pocatello !" he hollered, drawing
"What they don't do is this: they don't say, 'Ah, that's okay, Jimmy;
You can't hit a seventeen-inch target? We'll make it eighteen inches,
or nineteen inches. We'll make it twenty inches so you have a better
chance of hitting it. If you can't hit that, let us know so we can make it
wider still, say twenty-five inches.'"
" … what do we do when our best player shows up late to
practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up
unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him
accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him. Do we widen
The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet,
the fog lifting as the old coach's message began to unfold. He turned
the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw
something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house
was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows.
"This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the
way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don't teach
accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to
meet standards. We widen the plate!"
Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American
flag. "This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our
education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of
the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline
our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where
is that getting us?"
Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross. "And this is the problem in
the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have
taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity
swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home
plate for themselves! And we allow it."
"And the same is true with our government. Our so called
representatives make rules for us that don't apply to themselves.
They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no
longer serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate and we see
our country falling into a dark abyss while we watch."
I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn
something about curveballs and bunting and how to run better
practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old
man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something
about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my
responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others account-
able to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and
our society continue down an undesirable path.
"If I am lucky," Coach Scolinos concluded, "you will remember one
thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves
to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail
to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are
unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet
the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government
fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but
one thing to look forward to …"
With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around,
and revealed its dark black backside. "… dark days ahead."
Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching
the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including
mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning
year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other
coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known
because he was so much more than a baseball coach.
His message was clear: "Coaches, keep your players—no matter how
good they are—your own children, your churches, your
government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches."